No More Shoah Selfies: Why the Controversial 'Yolocaust' Project Was Taken Down

The website featured photos of people acting inappropriately at Berlin's Holocaust memorial, photoshopped with graphic scenes from Auschwitz in the background.

Yolocaust
Yolocaust

The “Yolocaust” is over.

The Berlin-based Israeli artist and satirist who created a controversial project that superimposed photographs of young people frolicking at Berlin's Holocaust memorial with graphic images from Auschwitz has taken it down on Thursday, after less than a week, saying that it has served its purpose.

Shahak Shapira said that more than 2.5 million people had visited the site, which went online on January 20. The project was a rebuke to those who behaved disrespectfully at The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin and then captured their behavior and shared it with their friends on social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, Tinder and Grindr.

Shapira’s site gave those who appear in any of the photos the option of removing their image from the site, if they "suddenly regret having uploaded it to the internet," by writing to the aptly-named email address undouche.me@yolocaust.de

Remarkably, Shapira reported in a statement posted on her website on Thursday, all those whose pictures were featured on the site wrote her asking their photos be removed. This is why, he said, the photographs are no longer available for viewing on the website, whose name was a twist on the trendy acronym YOLO - You Only Live Once.

“The project actually reached all 12 people whose selfies were presented,” Shapira said. “Almost all of them understood the message, apologized and decided to remove their selfies from their personal Facebook and Instagram profiles.”

Shapira also posted the Email he received from the young man who was most prominently featured in the project, the first picture of the project, who was shown leaping on the concrete slabs of the memorial with the caption “Jumping on dead Jews @ Holocaust Memorial”

“I am the guy that inspired you to make Yolocaust, so I've read at least. I am the "jumping on de..." I can’t even write it, kind of sick of looking at it. I didn't mean to offend anyone. Now I just keep seeing my words in the headlines.

I have seen what kind of impact those words have and it's crazy and it's not what I wanted ()

The photo was meant for my friends as a joke. I am known to make out of line jokes, stupid jokes, sarcastic jokes. And they get it. If you knew me you would too. But when it gets shared, and comes to strangers who have no idea who I am, they just see someone disrespecting something important to someone else or them.

That was not my intention. And I am sorry. I truly am.

With that in mind, I would like to be undouched.

P.S. Oh, and if you could explain to BBC, Haaretz and aaaaallll the other blogs, news stations etc. etc. that I fucked up, that'd be great.”

Shapira added that he also “received tons of great feedback from Holocaust researchers, people who used to work at the memorial, folks who lost their family during the Holocaust, teachers who wanted to use the project for school lessons, and evil people who sent photos of their friends and family for me to photoshop.”

The goal of the project had been to “explore our commemorative culture” by combining selfies from the memorial with photographs from Nazi extermination camps.” The site featured real colorful selfies of young people jumping, juggling, skating, biking and even doing gymnastics in, around, and on top of the 2,711 concrete slabs of the massive memorial structure. When the viewer moved their computer’s mouse over the photos - without even a click - they suddenly transform to black and white, and graphic black and white photographs of the extermination camps appear in the background.

Shapira told Haaretz in an interview last week that he was moved to create the project by the “huge amount of inappropriate selfies at the Holocaust memorial I started seeing on a weekly basis in social media.”

Shapira, 28, moved to East Germany when he was 14, and grew up in what he describes as a “shithole ...  with lots of neo-Nazis” before relocating to Berlin. He has published a book in German about his dual Israeli-German identity, performs stand-up comedy and enjoys "trolling neo-Nazis on the Internet," he said.  

Shapira’s name hit the headlines in January 2015, when he was attacked and beaten by a group of young men on the subway of the German capital on New Year's Eve. The assault took place, he told police, after he asked the seven men to stop chanting anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli songs and slurs which he recorded on his cell phone. When he got off at the next subway stop, the men, who were speaking both German and Arabic, followed him and demanded he delete his video. When he refused, they spat on him and beat and kicked him, injuring his head.

In addition to his statement and the email from one of the people in the photographs, a selection of the variety of reactions he received in the wake of the tremendous media coverage of his project was posted on his site.

The feedback ranged from praise “I am not a douche. I am just here to thank you with all my heart for making this disturbing paradox public. I walk past the memorial everyday and I am confused and saddened to see the mixture of disrespectfulness, lack of knowledge and self-promotion in many visitor's behavior” to anti-Semitic attacks:  “Too bad you weren't in a German prison camp during WWII. I hope you are some day.”